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As USG president and senator, Ehrhardt
thrives on life in the fast lane
February 8, 1999
Like a seasoned politician, Liz Ehrhardt goes door to door as often as she can, so students connect a face with her name. Some aren't even familiar with the Undergraduate Student Government, the organization she represents. She wants to change that.
Ehrhardt was elected president of USG, the organization that represents student interests and concerns to University faculty, administrators and state legislators, last April. She is also one of its 37 senators, each of whom has a constituency: some represent students in the residence halls, some represent students who commute. Ehrhardt is one of five senators representing the University at large.
"Many students don't use USG resources because they don't know we're here," says Ehrhardt. "Senators are direct advocates for students. We're here to tackle problems - from issues in the residence halls to the classroom - to make student life better."
For instance, they're working on securing a seat on the Mansfield Town Council, ex-officio, and have organized an online textbook swap to help students save money.
Ehrhardt, from Hamden, has been a senator since her sophomore year. She put her flair for public relations to work last year by restarting a USG newsletter, creating flyers and running newspaper ads to promote the organization.
"Students need to know who we are. We are all-encompassing, in that we deal with issues touching every aspect of student life." This semester, she says, "there is a real push to get the senators out there and do as much person-to-person communication as possible."
Ehrhardt thrives on her work as president and as senator. "I love being involved and I love being part of a team. Leading that team effort is even more rewarding," she says. "I like the opportunities I have as president to make that extra difference and to be the point person for the organization, but I'm just as involved as a senator."
One of Ehrhardt's biggest challenges is to ensure that students receive all available information on any given issue. Her role as leader has given her access to information that most students don't have. "As a student leader, you have more contact with the administration or department head and hear both sides of an issue. Getting students the full body of information is key to understanding problems and arriving at a solution," Ehrhardt says. And if it takes knocking on doors to make that happen, that's fine with her.
Ehrhardt's skills were put to the test during last year's Spring Weekend - just three days after she took office. "It was trial by fire," she says. "Meetings, dealing with media."
In the discussions and planning that have ensued, she says, she and Lou Mangini, USG's vice president, have emphasized keeping students informed. "We have been trying our very best to keep as many students involved and informed about the process as we are. Rumors fly so easily," she says.
Another challenge Ehrhardt faced this year was hiring a new secretary and bookkeeper as staff to the USG organization. "It was quite an interesting experience as a 21-year-old to be interviewing people who had 30 and 35 years of experience in the workplace," she says.
Ehrhardt says she is still learning how to juggle her academic responsibilities with her role as a student leader. Her academic major is a demanding one: She is in her fourth year of the five-year Eurotech program, working toward both a bachelor of science in civil engineering and a bachelor of arts in German. As part of Eurotech, next year she will spend a semester in Germany doing an internship.
After graduation, she hopes to become a Peace Corps volunteer and work on civil engineering projects in a Third World country. "So many places don't have nearly the same standard of living that we have," she says. "I want to give something back."
Her future plans also include teaching math or science in middle or high school and, perhaps, a position in politics.
This article is one of a series on student leaders at the University.